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Anglican History: Reformed, Catholic, or Confused?

A center image of the inside of a church to represent Anglican history

Anglicanism is a religious identity claimed by millions of faithful Christians across the globe. In fact, the Anglican Communion is the third largest Christian communion of churches after Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. It is a tradition tracing its lineage to the Church of England—although many Anglican churches today are either in broken communion with the mother church or in no communion at all.

It’s nearly impossible, therefore, to define Anglicanism in a way that everybody will find satisfying. This is probably because Anglicanism is made up of several essential characteristics, each of which is considered the defining hallmark by some—but not others. Only a view of the whole, with all the essential pieces in place, can offer us a meaningful definition of Anglicanism.

To that end, we’ll consider Anglicanism as seen through three interpretive lenses; its historical conditions, its defining characteristics, and the Anglican formularies or authoritative doctrinal sources. By the time we arrive at a fully fleshed-out definition of Anglicanism, I hope you’ll agree that, essentially, Anglicanism is a particularly English form of Reformed Catholicism with a strong global presence.

Let me offer a summary of where we’re headed.

The three interpretive lenses of Anglicanism

1. History

As we examine the story of Anglican Christianity, we’ll begin to understand how its historical conditions have brought about a community of faith that is:

  • English: Anglicanism is providentially tied to the history of Christianity in Britain.
  • Catholic: It lays claim to the creeds, sacraments, and liturgy of the universal church.
  • National—but independent: It respects and lives in service to local/national customs and polities.
  • Reformed: Anglicanism is a full—but unique and conservative—participant in the Protestant Reformation.
  • Global: Anglicanism has a reach far beyond England, and it has an especially vibrant expression in the global South.

2. Characteristics

What arises from these conditions is a church with some specific defining characteristics. At its best, Anglicanism possesses:

  • Apostolic pedigree: Anglicanism believes in the faith once delivered to the saints, a faith received from apostolic teaching and ministry.
  • Biblical authority: All Anglican doctrine is derived from the inspired word of God.
  • Liturgical order: Anglicans use the historic Western liturgy as expressed in the Book of Common Prayer.
  • Sacramental grace: Anglicans trust the promises of God in physical signs granting spiritual renewal.
  • Evangelical proclamation: Anglicans preach the good news of Christ’s work for us as a source of comfort and as an imperative.

3. Anglican formularies

Ultimately, these conditioned characteristics are articulated in the authoritative sources of the Anglican confession or formularies:

As we take a stroll through the centuries, navigating the complex history of Anglicanism, I’ll make a special effort to refer to each of these conditions and characteristics as they come up, while eventually explaining how the Anglican formularies operate to secure them all within the Anglican community of churches.

Historical conditions leading to Anglicanism’s inception

Many of Anglicanism’s detractors—and some of its proponents—insist that Anglicanism started in the sixteenth century when King Henry VIII wanted to divorce his wife out of frustration that she hadn’t produced a male heir. While this is indeed part of the messy history of the Anglican branch of Christianity, many Anglicans see their church’s story beginning much earlier.

Ecclesia Anglicana

One way or another, every Anglican church traces its origins to the Church of England. However, before there was the Church of England as we know it today, there was the Ecclesia Anglicana, the name given to the Christian church of the British Isles long before the Reformation of the sixteenth century. Famously, St. Augustine of Canterbury was sent by Pope St. Gregory the Great as a missionary to bring the gospel to this land seated on the Western edge of the Roman Empire, but what he found was a native church already thriving, having flowered there far from the imperial capital—and from the apparent notice of the See of Rome. With a civil greeting by Ethelbert, King of Kent, whose wife was a Christian, Augustine found the English “Pagan” to be “a man eminently convertible to Christianity,”1 as C.S. Lewis once quipped.2

The main thing to take away here is that while Augustine of Canterbury recognized the native Christianity in Britain as belonging to the catholic (or universal) church, it had existed independently of papal oversight up until then. So, a distinctly English character, set apart from Roman influence, existed early on—though Augustine’s mission would begin to secure ties with the Roman patriarch. The famous story of St. Thomas Becket’s martyrdom in the twelfth century resulting from the church’s conflict with the English crown is another example of tensions between national and papal allegiances coming to a head.3

However, it was a later king who would set into motion a sequence of events that would give birth to “Anglicanism” as we know it today.

A king, an archbishop, and the long Reformation

The Church of England today is perhaps most easily recognized by the pomp of royal weddings and funerals. The presence of a monarch, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and (ideally) services from the Book of Common Prayer first emerged as the product of the combined interests of a sixteenth-century king and his Archbishop of Canterbury. However, the Reformation they began would not be completed until after both were dead.

News and tracts from the Protestant Reformation in Germany had been stealthily making their way into England for years, especially into the hands of young theological scholars—probably including future Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer. King Henry VIII of England had waded into Reformation controversies early on, earning himself the title Fidei Defensor, “Defender of the Faith,” by Pope Leo X for writing a personal rebuttal of Martin Luther’s views. Historian J. R. H. Moorman described this early influence of the Reformation:

Early in the 1520’s Lutheran teaching was being discussed at Cambridge where a group of enthusiasts was accustomed to meet at the White Horse Tavern. Among these were Robert Barnes, who was an Austin friar, Thomas Bilney, John Frith and probably a group of future bishops and archbishops, including Thomas Cranmer, Matthew Parker, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley.4

While Henry’s theology never quite aligned with Protestant principles, his attitude toward the Reformation changed quickly when he became determined to seek annulment to a marriage that had not produced for him a son and heir. 

Suddenly the Protestant rejection of papal authority—and the prospect of a national, English church—began to look very appealing to Henry; and his Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, became the chief administrator of the first modest reforms to take place under a Tudor monarch.

The Reformation: continental and English

As Reform swept through the church on the continent, the Church of England became a participant in a way that meshed with its unique national identity and priorities. Lutherans and Reformed were engaged in reforming the Catholic faith in their respective churches, along divergent lines but generally in line with the great “solas” of the Reformation. While these various traditions didn’t always agree and were sometimes sharply divided, the Church of England became fully engaged in these debates, gleaning valuable insights from each as Cranmer initiated the English reforms.5

After Henry: Edward and Mary

When Henry VIII died, his young son Edward ascended the throne. Unlike his father, Edward had been raised a devout Protestant and was an enthusiastic force for continuing the reforms that had begun under Henry’s reign. Edward’s reign did not last long, however, and his sister Mary took the throne, beginning her “bloody” reign by reversing the allegiance of the English Church back to a Roman Catholic orientation. Eventually, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, along with Bishops Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer, were among the high-profile martyrs who were publicly burnt to make Mary’s religious allegiances completely clear.

Mary’s brutal reign—she executed more than 280 religious martyrs—was cut short, and her marriage to the Spanish king had left no heir, so the throne of England passed to her sister, Elizabeth. The virgin queen, another daughter of Henry VIII, was a Protestant like her brother Edward. She would undo the changes Mary had made. It was during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I that the Church of England returned to its Protestant (or Reformed Catholic) character, and the matter of England’s formal religious character was “settled.”

Elizabeth I: an Anglican settlement

The Elizabethan Settlement saw Archbishop Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer reinstated as the liturgy of the English church, along with the 39 Articles of Religion which were revised and edited into their current form in Elizabeth’s time. It was “Good Queen Bess” who famously declared “I have no desire to make windows into men’s souls.” She wished for the Anglican religion to be a church in service to the English nation. This offers us a view into the restrained Reformed Catholicism contained in the 39 Articles. It was the same orthodoxy that guided the hand of eminent divines like Richard Hooker, whose Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity repeats the consistent Anglican rejection of both Roman Catholic corruptions and Puritanical extremism.

Unfortunately, the Anglican religion established in the Church of England was far from truly settled at this point. The following events are all worth studying further, but I’ll only make a brief note of them here to give you an idea of their importance:

  • James I ascends the English throne and is targeted for assassination by Guy Fawkes, a Roman Catholic dissident, in the infamous Gunpowder Plot.
  • Charles I is forced to defend the throne with his Cavaliers against the (largely Puritan) Roundheads during the English Civil War. Both Charles and Archbishop William Laud are beheaded after defeat at the hands of the Puritan Oliver Cromwell.
  • Oliver Cromwell serves as Lord Protector of England—and once again Anglicanism (along with Christmas!) is ejected from the English Church and replaced by a strict Puritanism.
  • Charles II sees the restoration of the English monarchy and of the Anglican Church. The latest and current edition of the Book of Common Prayer is edited and published during his reign in 1662.

After half a century of unsettling and resettling inside the English nation and its church, what emerges are a set of theological and liturgical standards representing the work begun by Thomas Cranmer and faithfully guided by Anglican divines into their current and lasting form. These are commonly called the Anglican formularies.

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The Anglican formularies: Reformed Catholic commitments

The Anglican formularies are confessional and liturgical statements of the Reformed catholic theology embodied in orthodox Anglicanism. Canon A5 of the Church of England spells out the priorities and commitments of Anglican doctrine clearly:

Of the doctrine of the Church of England

The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures.

In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal.

Next, I’ll give a brief overview of each, beginning with the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion.

The 39 Articles of Religion

The Articles of Religion (then numbering 42) were originally composed during the reign of Edward VI by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and Bishop Nicholas Ridley.

The Articles were restored during Elizabeth I’s reign and reached their current (English) form in 1571.

The earliest versions were closely modeled after the Augsburg Confession, and they still retain much of the Lutheran sensibility in their later form.

Reformed theology drove an expansion of the Articles to address issues like predestination and communion, but they were later edited to a moderate position.

The 39 Articles are a statement of Reformed Catholicism, interested in preserving the ancient creedal doctrines of the catholic church, as well as the evangelical distinctives of the magisterial Reformation.

Traditionally, the 39 Articles were required to be affirmed by all clergy and even by students at British universities.

Subscription to the Articles is still required in certain traditional Anglican jurisdictions.

These articles embody the core beliefs of the Reformed Catholic faith: the Trinity, the dual natures of Christ, the authority of Scripture, justification by faith, the role of the church, and the importance of sacraments. They tell us the boundaries of Anglican belief and articulate a concise orthodoxy that some find sparse, while others enjoy the freedom they permit by avoiding unnecessary speculation.

The Articles don’t sit well with everyone. Theological liberals tend to find their catholic commitments dated, while Anglo-Catholics dislike their Protestant flavor, and the ultra-Reformed often prefer the longer confessional documents of other Protestant traditions. Although not without some detractors, the Book of Common Prayer enjoys far more universal approval across the spectrum of Anglicanism. 

The Book of Common Prayer

What is the Book of Common Prayer (BCP)?

The BCP is a liturgical treasure of the Anglican tradition and has been a hallmark of Christian worship since 1549.

To a large extent, the BCP is holy Scripture arranged for prayer.

Cranmer’s inclusion of the traditional collects and eucharistic lectionary of the Sarum rite6 indicates its Catholic roots.

The BCP covers both public and private prayers for every occasion of the Christian life: morning and evening, Sunday, baptism, wedding, and burial.

Thomas Cranmer’s elevated, liturgical prose is enduring, having a formative effect on the English language as a whole.

The Book of Common Prayer has gone through many editions, the English 1662 being the gold standard.

The BCP has been translated into numerous languages, and local editions have been printed to reflect the national character of a given Anglican province.

The prayer book isn’t just a book of liturgical services, it’s an Anglican rule for life (like a monastic rule7), and it’s an authoritative source of doctrine alongside the Articles and the Ordinal. Nothing else like it exists in all of Christendom. It has been borrowed and customized to fit Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox use, and it forms the basis of many evangelical Protestant services for weddings and funerals.

No other Protestant tradition has such an impressive and cohesive liturgical tradition, and no other liturgical tradition has anything so concise and adaptable to common Christian use, even at a global scale.

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The Ordinal

Anglicanism expresses the Reformed Catholic faith in the 39 Articles and in the doctrinally aligned liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer, and yet it probably stands out most, especially in the Protestant world, for the Ordinal.

The Ordinal is a doctrinally authoritative liturgical text that outlines the instructions and prayers for the ordination and consecration of deacons, priests, and bishops in the Anglican tradition.

Deacons

The best way to describe the role of the deacon in the Anglican tradition is to let the Ordinal speak for itself. Before ordaining a deacon, the bishop says:

It appertaineth to the office of a Deacon, in the Church where he shall be appointed to serve, to assist the Priest in Divine Service, and specially when he ministereth the holy Communion, and to help him in the distribution thereof, and to read holy Scriptures and Homilies in the Church; and to instruct the youth in the Catechism; in the absence of the Priest to baptize infants; and to preach, if he be admitted thereto by the Bishop. And furthermore, it is his office, where provision is so made, to search for the sick, poor, and impotent people of the Parish, to intimate their estates, names, and places where they dwell, unto the Curate, that by his exhortation they may be relieved with the alms of the Parishioners, or others. Will you do this gladly and willingly.8

The deacon’s role is primarily to assist the priest during church services, to fill in for certain functions when necessary, and to serve the general needs of the less fortunate in the community.

Priests

The role of a priest is not unlike that of the pastor in other traditions. Let’s take another look at the Ordinal. This time I’ll just list a few of the examination questions from the ordination service to give us an idea of what the priest is signing up for:

  • “Are you persuaded that the holy Scriptures contain sufficiently all doctrine required of necessity for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ?”
  • “And are you determined out of the said Scriptures to instruct the people committed to your charge?”
  • “Will you then give your faithful diligence always so to minister the doctrine and sacraments, and the discipline of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded?”
  • “Will you be ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s Word?”

First, the bishop wants to make sure that a priest knows that the Bible contains all that we need to know to have saving faith, then he emphasizes the priest’s duty to teach this to his flock. Then the bishop asks if the priest will faithfully provide the doctrine, sacraments, and discipline of Christ, adding that he should be ready to defend his flock and “banish” any “erroneous and strange doctrine.”

Bishops

Our next topic touches on yet another standout feature of Anglicanism, the ordination or consecration of bishops. This rite, included in the Ordinal, marks the Anglican tradition as distinct from most every other Protestant church. Apart from certain Scandinavian Lutheran church bodies, no other Reformational tradition maintained the traditional threefold ministry of deacons, priests, and bishops. Let’s take a look at the collect used in this service to better understand the role of a bishop in Anglicanism:

Almighty God, who by thy Son Jesus Christ didst give to thy holy Apostles many excellent gifts, and didst charge them to feed thy flock: Give grace, we beseech thee, to all Bishops, the Pastors of thy Church, that they may diligently preach thy Word, and duly administer the godly discipline thereof; and grant to the people, that they may obediently follow the same; that all may receive the crown of everlasting glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Notice that this prayer (called a “collect,” a special prayer for specific purposes used in liturgical worship) begins by acknowledging the “excellent gifts” Jesus gave his apostles, followed by the implied reason for these gifts: “to feed [Christ’s] flock.” Then we immediately see a request that God would “give grace … to all Bishops, the Pastors of thy Church.” There is some disagreement among Anglicans of different theological persuasions as to the nature of the grace received by bishops during the consecration, but the collect appointed for the service certainly ties the episcopal ministry in direct correlation with the ministry of the apostles.

What we get in the Ordinal is yet another expression of Anglicanism’s Reformed Catholic commitments contained in the Anglican formularies. This is evident in the following:

  • Apostolic pedigree: Ordinands are called on to be recipients of and participants in the apostolic ministry following a succession of bishops back to the apostles.
  • Biblical authority: The scriptural lessons used for ordaining deacons, presbyters, and bishops show the New Testament foundation that the Ordinal rests on.
  • Liturgical order: The Ordinal is first and foremost an order of liturgical services for ordaining Anglican clergy to active ministry.
  • Sacramental grace: The Ordinal calls on God to grant a special grace to his ministers for the special function they’re called to perform.
  • Evangelical proclamation: Anglican ministers are directed to be faithful ministers of the word to their congregations.

The Anglican formularies remain a trustworthy guide and exposition of Anglicanism, classically understood. They form the theological framework of Anglicanism as a Reformed Catholic9 reception of biblical and apostolic teaching. However, as the centuries passed, other spiritual needs would present themselves and several reform movements arose to shake the church out of its apathy and remind it of a particular quality that had fallen into neglect.

Reform movements

Within the Church of England, several movements have sprung up in response to some perceived lack in the present conditions of the church. The two most famous of these are the evangelical revival of the eighteenth century and the Oxford movement of the nineteenth century.

The evangelical revival

Sometimes, faithfulness looks like a steady march toward your destination; sometimes it looks like an explosion. In the case of the evangelical revival movement of the eighteenth century, led by Anglican ministers John Wesley and George Whitefield, it was the latter. At a time when it was feared that many in Christian homes had fallen into a complacent spiritual lethargy, these enthusiastic preachers came along proclaiming the goodness of God and calling ordinary folk to a lively and devout faith demonstrated by holy living.

While this new “method” for faithful Christian living was first being worked out within the institutional structures of the Church of England, it would eventually take on a life of its own. In defiance of rules against transgressing the church’s parochial boundaries, John Wesley famously said, “The world is my parish!” He meant it. When Methodism made its way to the New World, its evangelical fervor carried the message far into the wild frontier of the American West, sometimes on horseback!

The Oxford movement

The Oxford movement of the nineteenth century, spearheaded by figures such as John Keble, John Henry Newman, and E. B. Pusey, emerged as a controversial and transformative force for Catholic renewal within Anglicanism. While its impact was marked by scandal at the time, especially with Newman’s Tract 90 and his subsequent conversion to the Roman Catholic Church, the movement ultimately left its indelible mark on Anglicanism, giving rise to the widespread influence of Anglo-Catholicism.

The Oxford movement, also known as the tractarian movement, sought to reinvigorate and reaffirm the Catholic heritage of the Church of England amid concerns of increasing secularization and exclusively Protestant (Reformed, but not Catholic) influences. John Keble’s sermon on “National Apostasy,” delivered in 1833, is often considered the catalyst for the movement. The tractarians advocated for a return to sacramental and liturgical traditions, emphasizing the continuity of the Anglican church with the historic Catholic faith.

Newman’s eventual conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1845 added fuel to the fire of controversy. His departure seemed to confirm suspicions held by the movement’s opponents that the Oxford movement was a covert attempt to reintroduce Roman Catholic practices into Anglicanism. The controversy surrounding Newman’s conversion further polarized the Church of England; however, the Oxford movement played a pivotal role in shaping the trajectory of Anglicanism.

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Anglican expansion

As the British Empire grew, so did the footprint of the Anglican Church in various of Britain’s colonies and former colonies. The Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA, for example, was born of this expansion. A great push for ecumenical relations between different branches of Christ’s church began to emerge as well.

Global communion: Anglicanism and other nations

The Lambeth Conference, a gathering for global Anglican leaders, first convened in 1867. It played a crucial role in formalizing and strengthening the ties among the emerging national Anglican provinces. The conference brought together bishops from across the Anglican Communion, providing a platform for shared dialogue, collaboration, and the articulation of common theological principles. This periodic (every ten years) gathering contributed to a sense of global cohesion within Anglicanism.

The global Anglican Communion, officially recognized in the early twentieth century, emerged as a unique and expansive network of autonomous provinces bound together by common traditions, liturgy, and adherence to the historic episcopate. The Communion’s growth mirrored the spread of Anglicanism to diverse cultural contexts. With leadership from the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Communion would determine how individual national churches could relate as a communion, and pave the way for ecumenical relationships, too.

Ecumenism: Anglicanism and other churches

The institutional expansion of Anglicanism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, notably through the Lambeth Conference, played a pivotal role in establishing ecumenical relations with Christians from other traditions. A key outcome of this effort was the formulation of the Chicago–Lambeth Quadrilateral, which outlined the foundational principles for unity among diverse Christian denominations.

The Chicago–Lambeth Quadrilateral, first articulated in 1886 and reaffirmed at the Lambeth Conference in 1888, consists of four essential points:

1. The Holy Scriptures

Recognition of the authority of the Bible as the inspired Word of God and a common basis for Christian faith and practice.

2. The Nicene Creed

Affirmation of the Nicene Creed as a statement of essential Christian beliefs, serving as a unifying creed across denominational lines.

3. The sacraments

Acknowledgment of the two sacraments ordained by Christ—baptism and the Eucharist—as integral components of Christian worship and common ground for unity.

4. The historic episcopate

Recognition of the historic episcopate, or the continuity of bishops in the apostolic succession, as a significant element in maintaining the apostolic tradition and fostering unity.

The Quadrilateral has served as a basis for all ecumenical discussions. The Porvoo Communion, established in 1996 between Anglican and Lutheran churches in Europe, is a perfect example of the Quadrilateral’s impact. The Porvoo Agreement is built on the principles of the Quadrilateral, emphasizing common faith, liturgical tradition, and episcopal ministry as foundations for mutual recognition and cooperation.

However, one potential drawback to ecumenism is the temptation to sacrifice theological integrity on the altar of Christian unity. This is just one concern that emerged as the Anglican Communion drifted steadily into the modern age.

Secularism and faithfulness in modernity

Our current historical moment has been called “a secular age,” and it seems that, at some point in the last century or earlier, we transitioned from being a truly Christian society to one marked by the ruins of Christendom. The prevailing systems of thought and belief can be best characterized as post-Christian, if not explicitly anti-Christian. The question arises: How did we reach this lamentable state?

The roots of this transformation can be traced to intellectual movements originating in the European Enlightenment and gaining momentum through radical thought in the twentieth century. These ideologies have permeated the highest levels of learning in the West, including traditional centers of Anglican theological and cultural thought such as Oxford and Cambridge. Consequently, the secularizing impulse to reshape everything in man’s image found expression in liberal theology within Anglican divinity schools and seminaries pretty early on. This placed American mainline denominations, notably the Episcopal Church and increasingly the Church of England, at the forefront of a departure from traditional Christian beliefs. This departure and the reactions tell the story of Anglicanism in the post-Christian West.

A short timeline of major late-20th-century Anglican developments

The present state of Anglicanism requires an account of certain events beginning in the second half of the twentieth century as follows:

  • 1977: The first woman is legally ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church; the illicit ordinations of previous women were officially “regularized” by General Convention the previous year.
  • 1977: The Congress of St. Louis meets to discuss the departure of the Episcopal Church on the nature of the priesthood. The congress leads to the formation of several breakaway Anglican jurisdictions and the Affirmation of St. Louis, which still serves as an authoritative document for the Continuing Anglican churches today.
  • 1989: Controversial American Bishop John Shelby Spong ordains first openly gay priest.
  • 2003: Vicky Gene Robinson is the first openly gay priest to be consecrated as bishop, leading a group of conservative Episcopalian clergy to release a statement in protest.10
  • 2008: The Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem brings together theologically conservative Anglican leaders from across the Communion. They established the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and produced the Jerusalem Declaration.
  • 2009: The Anglican Church in North America is established by several breakaway Episcopalian clergy and dioceses, including the Reformed Episcopal Church, and is recognized by GAFCON primates from across the Anglican Communion; including Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Southern Cone, and Uganda.
  • 2016: A Group of 4 (G4) Continuing Anglican jurisdictions (the Anglican Catholic Church, the Anglican Church in America, the Anglican Province of America, and the Diocese of the Holy Cross) holds a joint synod as a first step and pledge toward unity. Later, the Diocese of the Holy Cross would vote to join the Anglican Catholic Church, turning G4 into G3.
  • 2019: The Anglican Church in North America published its first Book of Common Prayer.

What defines Anglicanism: Institutions or beliefs?

Looking at the state of Anglicanism today, there’s a strong divide between those who emphasize institutional ties, often in connection with the Church of England and recognition by the See of Canterbury, and those who argue that the traditional institutional model has faltered in upholding the Christian faith. The latter group prefers defining Anglicanism by a set of beliefs, such as the Anglican Formularies, the Affirmation of St. Louis, or the Jerusalem Declaration.

Despite this diversity, liturgical order remains a hallmark. The global landscape of Anglicanism is vast and varied, making it hard to trace a unifying thread, yet I contend that at its best Anglicanism embodies a Reformed Catholicism: English style with a global scope. While disagreements inevitably arise between Anglicans, it is undeniable that the Reformation has played a defining role in shaping Anglicanism. The tradition, however, has consistently maintained a claim to catholicity, carrying its distinctly English form and manners worldwide, adapting to the diverse cultures of nations. Despite the confusion brought on by the conflicts of secular modernity, Anglicanism offers a way to be a faithful disciple of Christ, equipped with a rich theological and liturgical heritage to bless a world in need.11

For further reading

The Definitive Guide to Christian Denominations
Scripture in the Anglican Tradition: The Story of the King James Bible

The Book of Common Prayer, 1662

The Book of Common Prayer, 1662

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The Faith We Confess: An Exposition of the 39 Articles

The Faith We Confess: An Exposition of the 39 Articles

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Richard Hooker on Anglican Faith and Worship: Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity: Book V

Richard Hooker on Anglican Faith and Worship: Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity: Book V

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God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics

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Anglicanism: A Reformed Catholic Tradition

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  1. J. R. H. Moorman, A History of the Church in England, 3rd ed. (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1980), 44.
  2. C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock; Essays on Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970), 172.
  3. For over three hundred years, the shrine of St. Thomas at Canterbury stood as a witness to the triumph of church over state. It was no wonder, therefore, that in 1538 Henry VIII took steps to have it destroyed and the martyr’s bones scattered. Moorman, History of the Church in England, 138.
  4. Moorman, History of the Church in England, 258.
  5. Unlike Henry, Cranmer was sympathetic towards foreign theology and in close touch with the Lutheran movement in Germany. Once Cranmer had accepted the royal supremacy, he struck out in earnest against the papacy, while at the same time his mind was full of schemes for liturgical reform of which the king would not have approved. Moorman, History of the Church in England, 146.
  6. “The Sarum Use” is the name applied to the particular rendering of divine worship in the English Church that was developed at Salisbury, in Wiltshire, from the early thirteenth century and then gradually spread to become at least by the fourteenth century the finest local expression of the Western or Roman Rite in England up to the Reformation. Sarum is the abbreviation for Sarisburium, the Latin word for Salisbury, which was and is both a city and a diocese in south central England. The Use of Sarum, then, was a rather exuberant, elaborate, beautiful, and especially well-arranged adaptation of the Western or Roman Rite that was gradually adopted by most of the rest of England as well as much of Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and even some places on the continent. J. Robert Wright, “The Sarum Use,” Project Canterbury, January 26, 2002, http://anglicanhistory.org/essays/wright/sarum.pdf.
  7. “What we find in the Book of Common Prayer is what we are committed before God to do and to be as his servants. The Prayer Book is our means for putting the faith of the Bible into practical operation in our lives. We have no other manual (‘handbook’) of faith and practice.” Louis R. Tarsitano, An Outline of an Anglican Life: Lessons in the Faith and Practice of the Anglican Church (Charlottesville, VA: Carillon Books, 1994), 84.
  8. See “The Ordering of Deacons.”
  9. “It is the Reformed Catholic Way. Anglican Churches claim to be Reformed Catholic in character. This associates them with two separate entities—the Roman Catholic Church (or The Catholic Church as it calls itself) and the (Protestant) Reformation of the sixteenth century. … The Church of England reformed the medieval form of Catholicism which it inherited, and it reformed itself by the Gospel, and specifically by the Gospel as it had been rediscovered by Luther and Calvin through St Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith alone through the grace of God in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Peter Toon, The Anglican Formularies and Holy Scripture: Reformed Catholicism and Biblical Doctrine (Philadelphia, PA: Preservation Press of the Prayer Book Society of the USA, 2006).
  10. “Particularly in response to TEC’s consecration of Robinson, orthodox Anglicans have initiated a more visible and urgent process of realignment in which they clearly distinguish an orthodox Anglican identity from a liberal Anglican identity that has allowed for actions such as Robinson’s consecration and the theological beliefs that accompany such actions. … Even while Anglicans have been engaged in the larger process of reexamining their identity, this more immediate and more focused identity crisis over orthodox and liberal Anglican identities has emerged.” Charles Erlandson, Orthodox Anglican Identity: The Quest for Unity in a Diverse Religious Tradition (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2020), 2.
  11. For a recent book on the subject of Anglican identity see Anglicanism: A Reformed Catholic Tradition by Dr. Gerald Bray. Bray’s convictions certainly lean more “Reformed” than “Catholic,” placing him firmly in line with luminaries like J. C. Ryle, John Stott, and J. I. Packer. However, Bray’s top-notch scholarship and accessible style make this a book well worth your time.
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Written by
Jesse Nigro

Jesse Nigro is a very ordinary layman in the Anglican tradition. He has been Editor and operator of The North American Anglican journal for over a decade and lives in Omaha, Nebraska with his wife and children, where he is a classical educator. He earned his BA in philosophy from Creighton University and MA in theology from Concordia University in Irvine.

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Written by Jesse Nigro